Natives in the Landscape

Native Settlements
Native towns were located along the edges of the rivers, adjacent to marshes, and near to high, level, well-drained fields. Because Native people practiced shifting cultivation – moving from old fields to new as the soil wore out – their villages tended over the years to move up and down the river’s edge.

© 2006 Charles City County


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The Chickahominy alone – of all the Tidewater Native communities – remained independent of the Powhatan paramount chiefdom, or the tribes held in a tributary relationship to Chief Powhatan prior to the arrival of the English. The Chickahominy also preferred a different form of government being ruled by a council of eight elders or Cawcawassaughes, rather than a singled chief or Weroance. Archaeological evidence also suggests the Chickahominy differed from other Tidewater tribes of the Late Woodland period in the highly decorated nature of their pottery and in their large communal gatherings for feasting. Their population is estimated to have been about 1500 in the contact era. This relatively high population may have been due to the number of marshes – and the food supply provided by such marshes-- within the territory they controlled.

The Chickahominies lived on both sides of the river from which they drew their name in modern-day Charles City, New Kent and James City Counties. While their semi-permanent villages lay within the area indicated on the map the territory they controlled for purposes of hunting, foraging and fishing was much larger.

John Smith’s map indicates nine Chickahominy towns on the south side of the river and six on the north side. The earlier Don Pedro de Zuniga map shows another four villages, three on the north side and one on the south side. Moving upriver from Old Neck the named southside villages were Mansa, Opahaock, Menascosic, Paspanigh, Mamanahunt, Chosicks, Paspanegh, Roghtacut/Righkahauk, Nechanicok and Mattahunt/Mattalunt. Moving upriver from Shipyard/Yarmouth Creek the named northside villages were Mattapanient, Ozenick/Oraniock, Werawahon, Askakep, Moysonec, Quosaugh, Attamuspiank, and Apocant. Following an extensive survey of the district in 1968-71, one published account posited locations for a number of these village sites. However, recently conducted radiocarbon dating has confirmed only one of the excavated sites to be a contact era site (Mansa on Old Neck). This and the absence of European trade goods at the excavated sites suggest that village plotting might best await further excavations and study.

Although the lives of Virginia’s Native people are very different today from the lives of their 17th century forbearers some things remain the same. The Chickahominy Tribe, numbering about 800 members, is governed by a Tribal Council, and the annual Chickahominy Pow-Wow is the largest communal gathering that takes place in Charles City County each year. A majority of the tribe members live in the vicinity of the Tribal Center and Samaria Baptist Church which are located in the western part of the county.

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Learn about the Chickahominy tribe. Learn about the Paspahegh tribe. Learn about the Weyanock tribe.